Amazon Site Development Plan / Zoning Amendment on Overhead Power Lines

The following text was sent out via email on June 13, 2023. Sign up for PEC email alerts →

Dear Supporter,

Now that Amazon’s Warrenton data center has moved into the site development plan stage, I want to update you on the Town’s latest actions, as well as other efforts in Fauquier County that could accelerate further data center development.

Tree clearing at the Amazon data center site. Photo courtesy Protect Fauquier.

Amazon’s Site Development Plan for Blackwell Rd.

On May 19, Warrenton Town staff issued an initial review of Amazon’s site development plan for a 220,000-square-foot data center on Blackwell Road. We commend the Town staff for a thorough and professional review of that plan.  
Warrenton Town staff determined that Amazon’s site development plan disregards multiple conditions of the special use permit (SUP) approved in February and contains numerous omissions, deficiencies, and errors, which Town staff and various agencies address in painstaking detail. The 41 pages of comments detail the following:

  • Amazon ignored SUP Condition 2 by failing to depict on its site plan noise-emitting equipment (i.e. HVAC units for cooling) and a plan for phased construction of the facility. 
  • Amazon ignored SUP Condition 6(d) by failing to specify what measures it will take to lessen noise from the site, and failing to include a noise study to demonstrate compliance of each phase of the facility with the Town noise ordinance.
  • Amazon ignored SUP Condition 5 by failing to show the location of proposed electrical lines connecting the facility to the grid.
  • All sheets of the site development plan are marked as “Confidential” despite the submission being public and subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
  • Amazon ignored SUP Condition 4, which requires that there be no substation on the site, by referencing the previously proposed on-site substation in the site development plan.
  • Amazon ignored SUP Condition 19 in its tree removal plan by identifying trees for removal that are outside the limit of disturbance without the required explanation. 
  • Amazon ignored SUP Condition 18 in its lighting plan, which shows building height at 42 feet rather than the 37-foot building height approved in the Special Use Permit and mandated in the conditions. Staff also noted that the overall lighting plan submitted was illegible. 
  • Amazon ignored SUP Condition 6b in its failure to provide to-scale building elevation drawings demonstrating compliance with Town Zoning Ordinance requirements for building design.
engineering map of amazon data center site plan in warrenton virginia
Amazon’s Overall Site Development Plan (Sheet C-301)

In addition, Amazon:

  • failed to indicate in its geotechnical report any potential blasting previously discussed throughout the Special Use Permit review.
  • provided an erosion and sediment control plan with no phasing or critical areas identified.
  • failed to adequately demonstrate the traffic impacts of proposed construction activity.

Despite enormous public outcry, the majority of the Town Council approved the Amazon data center development proposal based on the Special Use Permit conditions that were included with the project. The Council did so believing that these conditions were responsive to the public’s concerns. However, Amazon’s initial site development plan submission shows a clear lack of commitment to conform to these conditions, and Town staff’s assessment of that plan highlights particularly egregious departures from the most important ones.

For all of us, Amazon’s rushed and deficient submission, overall lack of transparency, and utter disregard for the conditions set forth by the Town when it approved the Special Use Permit should raise serious concerns about Amazon’s integrity and its commitment to the Town’s standards of development and concerns expressed by the community.

Amazon must, and can still be, held accountable to the standards set when the SUP was approved. Alongside the community group Protect Fauquier, PEC issued a statement calling for the Town staff not to approve future submissions until every comment is addressed satisfactorily by Amazon. We urge you to write to the Town Council and ask that they demand adequate responses to the issues Town staff have raised. PEC and our partners will continue to track and scrutinize Amazon’s revised submissions. 

Proposed Zoning Text Amendment Could Open Floodgates

Currently, Fauquier County’s Zoning Ordinance permits data centers in the Business Park zoning district when they use recycled water for cooling and when all new electrical infrastructure is placed underground. However, on June 1, the applicant Headwaters Site Development, LLC, filed a zoning text amendment that would add another zoning option for data centers in the Business Park district that would eliminate the requirement that new electrical infrastructure be placed underground. This option would additionally require a special exception, which allows additional review on a case-by-case basis. 

Although we understand that the applicant has attempted to limit the scope of this zoning text amendment, if adopted, the amendment would allow for construction of approximately three miles of overhead power lines along an underdetermined route, to be paid for by utility ratepayers. We believe that is simply not acceptable. In addition, we are concerned that the amendment would open the door to numerous other potential data center sites beyond the one proposed in Catlett.

map of proposed catlett data center, substation and red line of potential transmission line following the railroad
A potential transmission line route for the proposed Headwaters data center in Catlett. Although Headwaters Site Development has suggested a proposed condition that would route the line along existing railroad tracks, the enforceability of this condition is questionable. View full-size map on Flickr. Credit Watsun Randolph/PEC.

We believe Fauquier County should hold the line. The existing land use category requiring underground lines was a clear message to the development community that Fauquier County only allows data centers in places that do not require overhead transmission lines. If the County approves this zoning text amendment, its action would increase the likelihood and expectation of future rezoning requests for data centers and accompanying transmission lines.

As we stated in a recent letter to the Fauquier Board, PEC stands firmly in opposition to the proposed zoning text amendment. These transmission lines are costly, take residents’ land, attract more unsightly industrial development, and detrimentally impact nearby communities, forest, wetlands, streams, historic resources, and the rural landscape. 

A Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors public hearing will ultimately be required to approve the text amendment. We will keep you informed of any updates or changes, and opportunities to submit letters and public comment, as the County review process gets underway.

We thank you for your continued attention to both these issues. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions.


Kevin Kask, AICP
Fauquier County Field Representative
540-347-2334 ext. 7046